by Octavio Salvado. Published in Yoga Journal Australia – March 2017.
Yoga is not about flexibility. Yoga (at least in the traditional sense) begins with consideration of the following question:
Do I want to be flexible or do I want to be free?
This critical question is an invitation to a radical state-shift from Yoga student to Yogi.
What does this have to do with love?
According to Tradition the cultivation of stability is paramount when it comes to our practice both on and off the mat. According to both the Yoga Sutras and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, there is nothing that rivals stability. Each text in its own way claims that it isn’t until body and mind have been made steady that the real world of Yoga opens up.
Why? Because stability is the precursor to self-knowledge. Tradition says that love exists at the deepest level of our Being but in order to access its quality we must first sift through more superficial layers of personality; only then can we understand what stands in the way of an open expression of love. Without self-knowledge real self-love cannot occur. Without stability self-knowledge is out of reach.
The idea that Yoga is about flexibility is a new one; a misunderstanding birthed by modern minds – modern minds with legs under coffee tables nervously twitching, minds that are addicted to scrolling on smart-phones, minds that find solace in Yoga practices that distract those same minds from looking at how distracted they truly are – don’t buy into the modern-yoga-hype.
Yoga begins when we slow down, get steady and deal with what needs to be dealt with; namely, ourselves. Then, once the fluctuations of the mind have ceased, we can glimpse that aspect of Self that exists beyond the mind and beyond all things that change. Then, we can sit in remembrance of our pre-Prakritik state of Being, remembrance that we are the One beyond the many whose home (according to Tradition) is the almond-sized flame within the heart itself, the Vishok Jyotir, the light that allows no suffering to enter. Love is our source-point.
Self-knowledge is self-love and self-love is the source of all love. The system has been laid out for thousands of years. It’s a shame that so few Yogis nowadays follow it, instead choosing busy, Rajasic practices over those that promote stability.
Personally I know first hand the devastation caused by a Rajasic mind amplified by Rajasic practices. I have the divorce papers to prove it. Not all practices are good practices. Not all practices move us towards the light in our heart. Not all practices suit all people, because the forces that govern the universe and therefore us, calibrate themselves differently depending on our specific reasons for being here.
We are all here with a grand spiritual purpose to live out. The Tradition is clear on that and also that every person’s mission, set in motion by the indestructible essence of our own pure nature, is unique. This being the case, how could all Yoga practices suit all people all of the time? This is not good science and Yoga, to be clear, is humanity’s oldest science, the science of awakening. In my opinion, it is best we don’t water it down.
Whether we like it or not, in this Guna-bound dimension of manifest reality we are subject to universal laws, laws that govern the turnings of our life. The first is the Law of Alternation, which states that everything we do, say, eat, believe, think, surround ourselves with and expose ourselves to (including other people), effects us. The Gunas, or attributes of nature, are in everything. There is nothing that they are not in, including our minds.
Heavy words, dense, lifeless foods, dark thoughts and habits will become us. They will not touch the truth of who we are, but they will become our conditional experience nonetheless. Likewise, fast-paced lives and habits will sculpt an agitated nervous system and a mind that will never find the peace afforded by the silence of meditation. It can be no other way. Mental clarity stems from clear choices, including practices that lead us toward meditation, which is considered the direct path to self-knowledge and therefore to self-love.
The second law, the Law of Continuity, can be summed up by the age-old axiom, ‘like attracts like’. Whatever attribute is most dominant within us, be it clarity, momentum or inertia, will continue to be reflected in the things, people and choices that arrive within our orbit because this is what allows us to maintain the status quo. If we are out of balance then we will be drawn to the things that keep us out of balance: foods, people, practices, environments, professions and partners. The Law of Continuity states that the reverse is also true; being in balance inspires us to make choices that keep us in balance.
The issue is that the majority of us do not know (or want to accept) that we are out of balance and so most of the time we know what we want but not what we need. Here is the inconvenient truth; the majority of modern Yogis are Rajasic in nature and therefore would benefit most from slower practices than the ones they most likely do.
The vast ocean of modern Vinyasa and Power Yoga is evidence of an unstable, unbalanced Yoga culture. The absence of Meditation in daily drop-in classes only further highlights this point. Perhaps hard to hear but true all the same. The upside of this, however, is that we are at least up for doing the work. The will is there, just not the knowledge. Nor are the teachers that are willing to stand up and give students what they need, not what they want. Being a Yoga teacher is a big commitment. It is not about making friends or being popular. It’s about service, it’s about serving the core of people, not the condition.
So, back to love and the path we must tread to access it. That journey must be a slow and steady one. When we humbly yet tenaciously address the fast-paced state of our practices and minds and choose freedom over flexibility, stability over style, actual work over just working-out, then we will arrive back to our Self, a Self that is primed for love because it is love.
Love is our nature and to touch it we need to do less, not more. Don’t take my word for it though, put down your phone, pick up the ancient texts, find a teacher that cares about Yoga and cares about you, then sit still and remember yourself, your real Self. The invitation has been there all along: slow down to the beat of love and everything else will fall into place.